Judge: Ex-agent may testify about FBI search of Durst's room

AP News
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Posted: Jul 23, 2015 7:16 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lawyers for real estate heir Robert Durst may call a former FBI agent as an expert witness to testify about whether agents illegally searched his New Orleans hotel room before arresting him on a charge of illegally possessing a gun, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Durst is accused of possessing a firearm after a felony conviction. U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan has scheduled a hearing Sept. 16 on defense motions to exclude evidence, with a jury trial scheduled Sept. 21.

Durst is an estranged heir of the family that owns 1 World Trade Center. The weapons charge is keeping the 72-year-old millionaire in New Orleans even though he waived extradition to Los Angeles, where he's charged with murder in the death of his friend and onetime spokeswoman Susan Berman.

Durst's lawyers contend that the FBI and state police illegally searched his room at the J.W. Marriott hotel the evening of March 15, hours before getting a warrant and arresting him early March 16. A .38-caliber revolver was in the pocket of a jacket hanging in his closet, they said.

Houston attorney Don DeGabrielle, who was an FBI agent in New Orleans and New York and a U.S. attorney in Houston before going into private practice, will give his views about federal procedures for searches, inventories and arrests, Durst's attorneys said in court papers.

Federal attorneys have said in the past that the FBI agents made a legal inventory of Durst's belongings for jail records.

The judge has all the expertise needed to decide whether agents violated Durst's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, they argued in court papers.

"The straightforward facts animating this issue are not abstruse, and no special expertise will be required to establish the analytical framework," they wrote.

Berrigan wrote that DeGabrielle appears qualified to testify about topics that "are indeed relevant to the issues" brought up by Durst's attorneys.

Durst was arrested in New Orleans on the eve of the finale of "The Jinx," a six-part HBO documentary about Durst, the disappearance of his first wife in 1982, Berman's death and the death and dismemberment of a neighbor in Galveston in 2001.

Durst's self-defense claims won him an acquittal in the death of Morris Black. His lawyers have said repeatedly that Durst just wants to go to California to deal with the charge in Berman's death.

Durst's lawyers say his arrest in New Orleans was timed to coincide with the conclusion of "The Jinx." Durst had registered at the Marriott under the name Everette Ward and was lying low while HBO aired the final chapter of his life story.